AMHERST, N.Y. — Call it the trickle-down effect. The Cheektowaga Warriors Youth Hockey organization has taken advantage of it.
“Hockey in the Western New York area, especially in the west section, is
amazing,” said Tony Pierino, the coach of the Tier II Youth 16U Cheektowaga
Warriors. “There [are] so many teams and so many players now, it's unbelievable. All of that started with the Buffalo Sabres. When the Sabres brought new life here with new ownership everybody was like, ‘Hey let's do it.’”
The support from the top level has been apparent and well documented with the success of the Tier I Buffalo Jr. Sabres organization.
However, the trickle-down effect has allowed the many youth hockey organizations in and around Buffalo to grow and flourish at all levels. This is evident in the five Tier I and Tier II youth teams who recently won titles at the USA Hockey New York District Tournament en route to the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, April 3-8.
One of those teams is Pierino's Cheektowaga Warriors, located in a suburb east of Buffalo.
“It's the greatest feeling in the world,” Pierino said after his team defeated the Syracuse Blazers 6-1 in the final. “I've been lucky to win it. This is my fourth time. I'm so happy for them. They've reached their dream.”
The Cheektowaga Warriors Youth Organization has been around since the early 1980s.
Many residents around the Buffalo area flock to Cheektowaga for shopping at the Walden Galleria Mall, the largest in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area. For hockey, players from the nearby suburbs also flock to Cheektowaga to be part of the Warriors program.
Though consisting mostly of Cheektowaga residents, the Tier II Youth 16U team also consists of kids from such nearby suburbs as Lancaster, Orchard Park, and North Tonawanda.
“We have a mixture of players from all over the place to put this team together over two years ago,” Pierino, who has been associated with the group for 33 years, said. “It's nice that I have four lines that are balanced which is tough to do nowadays to put on a team. I've got excellent goaltending. My defense is well balanced.”
In the district tournament, scoring was indeed balanced. Twelve different players scored goals, with all but two players registering a point. Leading the way was Jaden Riley with three goals and seven assists for 10 points, followed by Bryson Miller (2-7-9) and Maxwell Richter (2-4-6). Justin Hughes had the most goals with four.
Joshua Ruffner saw all the action in goal, posting a 2.35 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
The youth team competes in the Western New York Amateur Hockey League. Between that schedule and various other games and tournaments, the Warriors have put up a 30-5-3 record so far.
“The biggest thing the kids have is character and heart. And that's something you can't teach nowadays,” Pierino said. “The kids are the big reason I'm here.”
That, too, is due to the trickle-down effect from their parents.
“The parents are very cooperative,” Pierino said. “It's nice to have a group of parents that are willing to listen and get involved.”
Now the team travels to Plano, Texas, the first week of April to experience the national tournament.
“These guys have never had that experience before,” Pierino said. “I always told them life is the experience. Now they are going to have a great experience and that's what I wanted for them. They will remember this for many years to come.”
And that is the ultimate trickle-down effect.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.